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10. Training, promotions and advancement

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a) Training and mentoring

Organizations benefit from having a workforce where all employees are motivated to learn, enhance their skills and make greater contributions to the organization’s success. The costs of not providing equal access to training or other learning opportunities can be significant. In addition to potential liability under the Code, affected employees fall farther behind over time and may be less able to advance compared to colleagues who have had training opportunities.

Example: An employer assumes that an older worker is too hard to train and is “riding it out” to retirement. She is not sent for training and is given performance reviews that do not meaningfully identify strengths and areas where there is room for improvement. Her skills do not remain current, and she cannot work on improving her weaker areas. She is less motivated to work hard because she feels she is not a valued worker, is not expected to perform and will never be recognized for her contribution.

The Code provides that every employee should be treated equally for internal and external training opportunities in the organization. This means that all decisions made related to training opportunities should be made using a non-discriminatory process.

Example: An employee tells his manager that he cross-dresses. The manager then tells the employee that he will no longer qualify for further promotions or career training because customers and co-workers will be uncomfortable with him.

An organization that provides education opportunities to staff based on the discretionary decisions of management could risk having a complaint made against them if an employee believes that he or she is being denied educational opportunities because of a Code ground. An example of a program that may avoid such problems would be one that allows all employees to go to one educational activity per year, as long as it is identified in their performance goals and objectives and not more than a set dollar amount.

Training opportunities that are limited to senior employees may exclude racialized persons, women and younger persons who may tend to be concentrated in the lower-level jobs. In other cases, training for people at lower levels may be focused on current job skills, while training for more senior employees may prepare them for promotion. A best practice is for organizations to make appropriate training available to all employees. Training should enhance current job skills as well as prepare employees for different or more advanced jobs.

Discrimination may occur where employees are informed about training opportunities in an informal way, such as word of mouth, or being selected based on the discretion of supervisors. All employees should have equal access to information about training opportunities. This information should be sent out widely through formal means such as e-mails, memos and posting on bulletin boards. Employers should allow employees to volunteer for training or encourage all employees to seek out training rather than selecting some for these opportunities (unless this is linked to a special program). The employer should use fair, objective and clearly stated guidelines for deciding who should get training.

Lack of appropriate mentoring has also been identified as a major barrier to training and development on the job for many people identified by Code grounds. Informal mentoring that has managers selecting employees to “take under their wing” can result in racialized persons being left out. Formal mentoring programs can make sure that all employees receive mentorship and that other employees are able to act as role models.

b) Advancement opportunities

Employment equity studies consistently show that racialized persons, women and people with disabilities are still largely concentrated in the lower levels of organizations, and that upward mobility continues to be a problem. It is important for organizations to be aware of how systems for promotion and advancement may result in obstacles for career progression. The principles, barriers and best practices discussed in Section IV-5 – “Interviewing and making hiring decisions” also apply to promoting and advancing internal candidates.

This section highlights considerations that arise related to opportunities for employees to move up within the hierarchy of a workplace. The Code provides that every employee should be treated equally in terms of advancing within the organization. This means that decisions made about acting assignments, secondments or promotions should be made based on objective evidence related to job performance and abilities, and not on subjective assessments that are based on stereotypes or unfounded assumptions related to a ground protected by the Code.

Example: An organization was concerned about the aging of its employees and that there could be a number of managers retiring within a 15-year period. Recruitment practices were modified to meet the “long-term professional needs of the department.” Statistical evidence on age distribution of employees following a hiring process showed that most employees were under age 40 and the vast majority of new employees were under 30. A tribunal found that the organization had set about recruiting a younger work force and that the 43-year-old complainant who had been with the organization for seven years was not offered a promotion into a particular position. This was in part because he did not fit the profile for the organization’s recruits into that position.

The following kinds of advancement practices raise human rights concerns and may exclude persons protected by the Code:

  • acting assignments are awarded informally and used as a stepping-stone to promotion
  • there is a formal process in place for awarding acting assignments, but not all employees are aware of these opportunities
  • management identifies people as “promotable” and then asks these employees to bid for higher-level jobs
  • a manager helps a favourite employee prepare for a selection process.

The best practice is for acting assignments to be awarded through a formal process that includes circulating information about acting opportunities to all eligible staff, using a clearly set out selection process that is based on objective criteria such as a written test, a formal interview and written performance appraisals. It is best not to encourage only certain employees to apply unless this is done as part of a special program or a mentoring program designed to overcome historical disadvantage. Provide any help with the process, such as mock interviews or background reading materials, on an equal basis to all candidates, subject to any accommodation requirements and any special program that may be in place.

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